"Yes, and you've told me so about once a week ever since I was big enough to pull a trigger," Jean retorted, with something approaching her natural tone. "Maybe I won't come back, Lite. Maybe I'll camp over home till morning."
Lite did not say anything in reply to that. He leaned his long person against a corral post and watched her out of sight on the trail up the hill. Then he caught his own horse, saddled it leisurely, and rode away.
Jean rode slowly, leaving the trail and striking out across the open country straight for the Lazy A. She had no direct purpose in riding this way; she had not intended to ride to the Lazy A until she named the place to Lite as her destination, but since she had told him so, she knew that was where she was going. The picture-people would not be there at night, and she felt the need of coming as close as possible to her father; at the Lazy A, where his thoughts would cling, she felt near to him,--much nearer than when she was at the Bar Nothing. And that the gruesome memory of what had happened there did not make the place seem utterly horrible merely proves how unshakable was her faith in him.
A coyote trotted up out of a hollow facing her, stiffened with astonishment, dropped nose and tail, and slid away in the shadow of the hill. A couple of minutes later Jean saw him sitting alert upon his haunches on a moon-bathed slope, watching to see what she would do. She did nothing; and the coyote pointed his nose to the moon, yap-yap-yapped a quavering defiance, and slunk out of sight over the hill crest.
Her mind now was more at ease than it had been since the day of horror when she had first stared black tragedy in the face. She was passing through that phase of calm elation which follows close upon the heels of a great resolve. She had not yet come to the actual surmounting of the obstacles that would squeeze hope from the heart of her; she had not yet looked upon the possibility of absolute failure.
She was going to buy back the Lazy A from her Uncle Carl, and she was going to tear away that atmosphere of emptiness and desolation which it had worn so long. She was going to prove to all men that her father never had killed Johnny Croft. She was going to do it! Then life would begin where it had left off three years ago. And when this deadening load of trouble was lifted, then perhaps she could do some of the glorious, great things she had all of her life dreamed of doing. Or, if she never did the glorious, great things, she would at least have done something to justify her existence. She would be content in her cage if she could go round and round doing things for dad.
A level stretch of country lay at the foot of the long bluff, which farther along held the Lazy A coulee close against its rocky side. The high ridges stood out boldly in the moonlight, so that she could see every rock and the shadow that it cast upon the ground. Little, soothing night noises fitted themselves into her thoughts and changed them to waking dreams. Crickets that hushed while she passed them by; the faint hissing of a half- wakened breeze that straightway slept upon the grasses it had stirred; the sleepy protest of some bird which Pard's footsteps had startled.
She came into Lazy A coulee, half fancying that it was a real home-coming. But when she reached the gate and found it lying flat upon the ground away from the broad tread of the picture-people's machine, her mind jarred from dreams back to reality. From sheer habit she dismounted, picked up the spineless thing of stakes and barbed wire, dragged it into place across the trail, and fastened it securely to the post. She remounted and went on, and a little of the hopefulness was gone from her face.